More than Concert for cello and orchestra, Op. 104 of Dvorak should be called Concert for orchestra and cello. And not because the splendor of the solo instrument is scarce, but because the Bohemian composer subordinates the onanism of the star to the requirement of concertation. It's not even a concert for an orchestra. It's a concert with the orchestra.
Dvorak requires the musicians to listen and listen. Not only from a chamber perspective, but also an exercise in reciprocal chromatic, rhythmic attention. It's about exploring textures and dynamics. The cello, rather than starring it, interweaves the concert, assumes the responsibility of taking us to the other shore, but more from underwater currents than from the waves. The mission of the cellist is to transfer the mood of the score. Overcome technical challenges, it is true, but subordinate them to the experience of the collective journey.
The proof is that Dvorak punctures the soloist to an exercise of patience and resignation in the long development of the musical introduction. So much the orchestra shines, so much delay the entry of the cellist. He is subjected to an exercise of humility. And he is constrained to unfold his first sound on a precipice of solitude and silence.
It is the first test. The rest are proposed to the soloist between virtuosity and structural responsibility. It would be a hell of a concert if it were not because Dvorak knows the limits and qualities of the instrument. He explores them in the sound and technical extremes, but it corresponds to the cellist with a writing of extraordinary naturalness. The passages of calm, cantábiles, and the frenetic passages resemble the accidents of the same river. The music flows in such a way that the soloist and the orchestra come to feel carried away or rocked by an inner force. The challenge lies in finding it. Dvorak proposes the best lures.
And he conceives perhaps the masterpiece not only of his repertoire, but of literature for solo instruments. Tutea Dvorak those of Brahms and Beethoven for violin. It takes further than Haydn, Shostakovich or Elgar the composers' affinity to the cello.
And it did not seem like it would happen that way. The Czech composer needed to reach the fullness to recover from the setback and frustration that had been the writing of his Concert in the major. He conceived it 30 years before the one that concerns us, but he regretted having "projected" it. In fact, he did not start the orchestration. He restrained the work to a reduction for cello and piano from which he never became satisfied, among other reasons because he was suspicious of the "soloist" qualities of the instrument. That is how he explained them frankly:
"The violoncello is a beautiful instrument, but its place is in the orchestra and chamber music. As a soloist, it's not very good. Its average register is, it is true, because the high-pitched creaks and their basses reverberate. The best solo instrument is and will be the violin. I have also written a concert for cello, but to this day I regret it. And I never intended to write another one. "
The words of Dvorak contradict him a few decades before he gave himself to the "construction" of the Op.104. The "preparatory work" that accompanies this album may have contributed to disabuse him. The Rondo (1893) is an exercise in style and virtuosity that he solved for a small orchestral organist – there is no wind in the original writing – while his Waldesruhe, written ten years before, predisposes the lyricism, the melancholy and the liederistic emphasis that would characterize his great concert.
We would translate directly from Spanish as "Silent Forests". It is the best way to define it in its evocative capacity. Dvorak "confuses" the wood of the trees with that of the cello itself. There exists between them and this one an organic relationship, an embryonic link that reminds the imagination of Admiral Nelson when he picked up an acorn in the field: he did not recognize between his hands the fruit of the oak. He was observing the mask of a great ship.
There is nostalgia and cantabile emphasis in their Waldesruhe, but more sense acquire the one and the other in the feat of the Concerto for cello. He wrote it from the American exile. And he had premiered the New World Symphony (1893), but the smell of cello wood contributed to the evocation of his land and its habitat. Dvorak pierces us with his melancholy. There is no pain, but you can feel the chill of "exile" and memory. It seems that the maestro turned the concert into the land that Count Dracula took to London so as not to uproot himself.
It is a hyperbolic interpretation, but quite effective to describe the fact that the writing of the Concerto -1884-1895- was prolonged during his experiences and trips abroad. First in England. Later in the United States, as director of the Conservatory of New York. And as a totemic reference to "western" music. The Op.104 it was his space of "regression", the raft of the castaway. And the pretext to investigate the emotions of his past.
None as obvious or flagrant as the evocation of his great love of unrequited youth. We are talking about Josefina Cermakova. And the disgust that Dvorak supposed to know that his old muse was dying. It is the reason why the adagio of the Concert lodges a lied that had written to him from the entrails: Lass'mich allein.
It is the passage that the violoncello must interpret assuming or acquiring a human nature. Dvorak transforms it into a warm lyric baritone. It reflows it with harmonics and nuances. And he comes to show us that the best way to overcome the "limitations" of the cello is to transcend it. Dvorak converts the cello into the metavioloncello. As in a mafistofélico pact, it reaches the feat of "animating" it. And the soul is in the score. You have to know how to find it among the lines of mystery.